Peggy Sue Dunigan

The Marriage of Bette and Boo at Boulevard Theatre

By - Dec 5th, 2009 12:15 am
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marriagebettebooLife may seem like a game of musical chairs. Friends and family members exchange places at a dining table or living room in a never-ending dysfunctional rotation, especially during the holidays.

The Boulevard Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, Christopher Durang’s autobiographical The Marriage of Bette and Boo, explores this condition. The cast sits in a row of straight back chairs against a wall covered with black-and-white wedding pictures. The actors shift chairs for each scene. This simple staging helps the play to unfold with absurd silliness tinged with frightening realism.

This duality exemplifies family relationships that involve alcoholism, abuse, illness and psychosis. If these problems appear heightened for theatrical effect, well, the holidays have a way of heightening dramatic effect in real life. Buried issues have a way of rising to the surface in late December.

Throughout the play Durang expresses his thoughts through the voice of narrator Matthew Hudlocke (Paul Madden). The character explains these events in his upbringing “in order to reconstruct by oral history for their understanding.”

Yet, nothing in Matthew’s life appears understandable, from the time his mother Bette (Anne Miller) married Boo Hudlocke (Ken Dillon) in the early 1950s. After their brief honeymoon, Boo began drinking; Bette’s baby dreams died; and their extended families enabled or promoted aberrant and abhorrent behavior.

These behaviors prove extremely funny to watch, as the production plays out scenes from Matthew’s memory in non-chronological order. Matt expounds on his perceptions throughout the two acts, interjects his own interpretations before each scene, and then takes his place in the performance when appropriate.

Madden plays this questioning narrator/son with steady assurance; while Miller and Dillon prove to be his likeable parents, despite their neurotic and alcoholic tendencies, applying dramatic understatement to the roles. Heather Reynolds portrays Emily, Bette’s guilt-ridden and extremely religious sister with tenderness, encouraging sympathy instead of pity.

David Flores plays Father Donnelly, a Catholic priest at loose ends in counseling the traumatized. His advice at a marriage retreat for young couples, which everyone attends, becomes a hilarious monologue on the surface with a serious subtext. The entire cast balances absurdity and poignancy in a script of psychological storytelling.

Boulevard’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo invites you to savor the play’s complexities long after the evening ends.

Durang’s musings suggest we never fully comprehend the intricacies of human behavior, especially in one’s own family. Acceptance, compassion and forgiveness are the only cures in such circumstances, which director Mark Bucher calls “a miscarriage of marriage, family and love.”

The Boulevard Theatre presents The Marriage of Bette and Boo through Jan. 2, 2010. Call for performance times and reservations because the traditional schedule changes due to the holidays: 414-744-5757.

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